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Cable to FCC: Slow Down

Jeff Baumgartner
10/28/2008

11:15 AM -- The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , following in the footsteps of the Association for Maximum Service Television Inc. (MSTV) , the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and some individual programmers, is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay voting on a "white spaces" proposal and allow for more public comment. (See Red Alert! )

The FCC has a white spaces proposal on the agenda for the Nov. 4 meeting. The vote could pave the way for a new breed of devices that tap unused portions of broadcast TV spectrum to deliver mobile broadband services. A new round of tests by the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) indicated that the "proof of concept" burden for white space devices had been met, though the tests also showed that the devices can cause interference in some circumstances.

Cable claims to be supportive of the technology, but it has been among its biggest critics, claiming that the devices can impair services. (See Cable Worried About 'White Space' Tech.)

In a document filed Monday, the NCTA argued that there "seems to be a complete disconnect between what the Commission's technical analyses have shown and what the Commission is proposing to adopt," noting that the tests again confirmed that unlicensed devices at low output power (as low as 5 mW) will disrupt cable service in the home.

"We urge the Commission not to rush to a decision that would ignore the unique and proven hazards of such devices to cable television viewers," the NCTA wrote, adding that, in the presence of such interference, consumers will become confused and likely not know the root cause of the degraded or missing picture on the channel they happen to be viewing.

The cable pressure group is calling on the FCC "at a minimum" to issue a Notice explaining its conclusions and give others the opportunity to comment on the issues raised in the latest OET report.

The FCC is getting pressure on both sides of the issue. For example, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) chairman Bill Gates and other white spaces champions are pressuring the Commission to pass the rule.

The FCC indicated earlier that it is reviewing the original request from the broadcast group, but, at last check, the white spaces item remains on the Commission's still-tentative Nov. 4 agenda.

An FCC spokesman also reiterated that parties have had ample time to file comments on the issue, as the docket's been open since 2004.

"We have been cautious, and our engineers think we can move forward," the spokesman said, adding that there's belief that the devices are smart enough to determine where there are vacant channels and not cause interference.

He also explained that all white spaces devices will have to go through a certification process, and so-called "listen-only" devices will have to endure a more rigorous process, including field testing, before they can win certification.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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